The term swamp monster conjures up different images in different people. Thoughts would range from the skunk apes said to roam the Florida Everglades to the reptilian lizard man that allegedly haunts the swamps of Lee County, South Carolina. Still others would, without a doubt, think of the terrifying images of the sasquatch-like creature, dubbed the Fouke monster, that terrified so many back in the 1970’s when The Legend of Boggy Creek made its debut on the big screen.
For me, the first thing that comes to mind is the fictional paramafait that was featured in an episode of the 1970’s series Kolchak: The Nightstalker. The paramafait was, according to the episode entitled The Spanish Moss Murders, a legendary swamp monster that was humanoid in shape but much larger and more powerful than any person. It was covered in Spanish moss and decaying vegetation. Paramafait squeezed the very life out of its victims by enveloping them in a bear hug that crushed their chest cavities. The show portrayed the paramafait as part of Cajun lore; a legendary creature that parents frightened their children with when they failed to behave. The creature was all but invulnerable and could only be killed by a spear fashioned from the wood of a gum tree. The climactic battle between Kolchak, played brilliantly by Darren McGavin, and the swamp monster in the sewers below Chicago made quite an impression on a then 8 year-old future cryptid hunter.
I wondered, years after viewing this episode, if paramafait was based on an actual Cajun legend. Having grown up in SE Texas in the Port Arthur area (Port Arthur is often jokingly referred to as the capital of Louisiana) I became well acquainted with Cajun culture. I have heard a lot of interesting tales from some old Cajuns. One has to be careful as these old timers are notorious yarn spinners and don’t mind “polishing up” a good story just a bit if it helps achieve the desired effect. Even so, I never heard anyone mention paramafait. I’ve looked often but have never found anything on this monster that connects it to anything but the old television show. It appears that paramafait was purely the creation of the Kolchak: The Nightstalker writing team. Having said that, it is entirely possible that the writers took some well-known Cajun folk tales and weaved elements of them together to yield the ultimate swamp monster that was paramafait. It is those tales I would like to examine now.
One of the most prominent figures in Cajun folklore is that of the rougarou. The term is, no doubt, derived from the original French term loup-garou. Both of these terms are used interchangeably in French Louisiana. Where I grew up, I heard the term loup-garou more often but noticed, even as a young boy, that when the old-timers told tales of the beast, they used rougarou. The rougarou legend has been around for generations and likely migrated south with the French Canadians two hundred years ago.
The rougarou is, for all intents and purposes, a werewolf. It was described in the past as a beast with the body of a man and the head of a wolf; however, the monster is described most often these days as a shape-shifting human that can transform into a massive wolf-like creature during the full moon. The rougarou is said to inhabit the swamps, marshes, and bayous of Louisiana and mindlessly slaughters any living thing unfortunate enough to cross its path. The tale, as is the case with almost all “boogeyman” stories, is most often told around campfires and/or to “encourage” obedience in children. One interesting twist on the rougarou legend is that the beast will actually hunt down Catholics who fail to observe the rules of Lent. Some versions of the legend actually claim that one way a person can be cursed and become a rougarou is by breaking the rules of Lent for seven consecutive years.
Most would consider the rougarou/loup-garou just another legend, a myth and nothing more. After all, there is no physical evidence to support the existence of such a fantastic creature.
Or is there?
Back in 1996 The DeQuincy News printed a rather unusual story. It tells the story of a woman named Barbara Mullins who stumbled across something very unusual on the side of a rural Louisiana state highway. Mullins was driving down Louisiana State Hwy. 12 when she noticed what appeared to be the road-killed carcass of a large animal at the edge of the road’s paved surface. She decided to stop and have a look. What she saw amazed her.
She described the animal as being roughly equivalent in size to an adult St. Bernard. The beast was covered with a thick, matted coat of reddish-brown hair. What really stood out to Mullins was the overall simian appearance of the animal. This didn’t look like any sort of dog she had ever seen. The snout was more like what one would see on a baboon than a dog. The ears of the animal were small and pointy: not dog-like at all. The feature that stood out more than any, however, was the very un-paw-like feet of the creature. They were long and elongated and looked much more like the feet of an ape than those of any canine. Mullins, unlike so many people who have had strange encounters, had a camera in the car and took several intriguing photos.
I have to admit that the photos of the “Deridder Road Kill,” as the carcass has become known, are very interesting to me. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries wasted little time before stating the animal was nothing more than a Pomeranian dog. Others felt, due to the simian-like features present, that the animal was some sort of primate. Some ventured this was physical evidence proving the existence of none other than the legendary rougarou/loup-garou.
Whatever the animal might have been will likely never be known. Even the photos themselves, intriguing as they are, are frustrating in that there is nothing in them to provide scale and, thus, verify the claim that the animal was the size of a St. Bernard. Was it just a Pomeranian dog that had gone feral or something more? Is this the real creature behind the tales about the rougarou/loup-garou?
Of all the swamp monster legends, that of the Honey Island swamp monster might be the most intriguing. The Honey Island Swamp is a tract of bottomland lying between the East Pearl and West Pearl Rivers in SE Louisiana. The swamp covers about 250 square miles. Of that, approximately 70,000 acres have been set aside as a protected wildlife area by the Nature Conservancy. The swamp teems with life. Alligators, cougars, coyotes, waterfowl of all kinds, bald eagles, and even the endangered red wolf have all been spotted here. Some claim something else has been seen as well.
The first heavily publicized sighting of what would become known as the Honey Island Swamp monster took place in 1963 when a retired air traffic controller named Harlan Ford claimed to have spotted the creature while fishing the black waters of the Pearl. Ford and a friend named Bill Mills later brought a casting back of a very unusual footprint. The footprint was very large and featured three webbed and clawed toes. I believe strongly this print is nothing more than that of a very large bull gator but it isn’t this casting that makes me pause and consider the possibility that a monster might actually roam the Honey Island Swamp. Rather, it is the words of Harlan Ford and another local named Ted Williams (not the baseball player), spoken during several interviews, and a piece of film that make me think there might be something to the legend. Williams told the television crew of the famous In Search Of series the following:
“First time I ever saw it, it was standing plum still like a stump. I stopped and realized it wasn't a stump and it wasn't supposed to be there. When I stopped it ran. It was dark gray, about seven foot high, it jumped a bayou, that was the first time I saw it. The next time I seen him was swimming the river [Pearl River], two of them, one was bigger than the other and faster than the other and they swam just like a human with them long overhead strokes. I tried to get one of them to look at me and the other one ran off and the other one wouldn't look at me. I could've shot it but I wouldn't on account it wouldn't look at me. It looked too much like a human too me, broad shoulders, arms hanging down below its knees, hands looked almost like a humans."
One of the things Williams says during his interview that catches my attention is his description of how the creature stood dead still, “like a stump,” until it realized it had been seen. Once it realized it had been spotted, the animal fled. This scenario has been described many times by alleged sasquatch witnesses (The creature in question is clearly a sasquatch-like animal). Another intriguing aspect of his second account is of the creatures swimming. There have been a handful of sasquatch sightings where the witnesses claimed to have seen these animals swimming. These reports were often dismissed at the time since it was believed no apes could swim. This has now been proven wrong (see my Great Ape Parallel Series). The claim of seeing a wood ape swim would have been deemed too outlandish to be believed back in the early 1970's even by those who believed in the existence of such creatures. Why would Ford and Williams say something they knew even monster hunters wouldn't believe? Ford is also among the first to mention the possibility that the creature might climb trees to escape detection. I have a copy of the Honey Island Swamp Monster DVD, a documentary produced by Harlan’s daughter, in which another man recounted a sighting to Ford. In a nutshell, the man said he saw the beast and then it just “disappeared.” The man could not believe the animal could have gotten very far in the time it took him to get to the spot where it was first seen. Ford asked him, “Did you look up? Never forget to look up.” It is little tidbits like these that lend credence to the stories of Harlan Ford.
After Harlan Ford died in 1980, a reel of Super 8 film was found among his belongings. A segment of the film featured an upright creature walking right to left just inside a tree line somewhere in the swamp. You can see a snippet of the video above. His footage is one of only three pieces of video that I’ve seen that I believe may very well be authentic (I have another post in the works comparing and contrasting these three pieces of footage). Some dismiss the video as a hoax. I don't. I have reasons for feeling the way I do. I'll delve into those in a future post but, in the meantime, consider something. Wouldn't Harlan Ford, assuming he was a hoaxer after fame, money, or attention, have promoted his 8mm film for all it was worth? Wouldn't he have "gotten it out there" to television producers, newspaper and magazine editors, or even the local news stations? Why would he hold onto the footage and show no one? It doesn't make sense. Some might think Ford did have plans for the footage and that he died before he could realize his plans. I don't buy it though. I have no idea why Ford never shared the footage. Maybe he had simply achieved his goal of proving the monster was real. Maybe that was enough for him.
As stated above, the creature described by Ford and others in the Honey Island Swamp is clearly a sasquatch-like animal. It is almost universally said to be close to 7-feet tall, covered in hair, and bipedal. The colors described range from a grayish hue to the more typical reddish-brown. To bring this thing full circle, could the legends of the loup-garou/rougarou be based on sightings of sasquatches? The descriptions of the beasts are similar in many ways: large, upright, covered in hair/fur, etc. Maybe the old Acadians that first settled these bottomlands were projecting their previous knowledge of the French werewolf to the unknown animal they were seeing in the woods near their new homes in the deep south. It is an intriguing theory.
Tales of hair-covered, screaming, shambling bipedal swamp monsters aren’t going anywhere. Popular culture revels in these sorts of things. Bigfoot is used to sell everything from beef jerky to cosmetics. The Swamp Thing (DC Comics) and Man-Thing (Marvel Comics) both play off the swamp monster mythos to sell comic books. None other than Survivorman Les Stroud alluded to swamp monsters when he did an episode of his show from the Okefenokee Swamp of southern Georgia several years back. The movie industry will, no doubt, continue to churn out B-grade films featuring beasts that emerge from the creepy bayous and swamps to terrorize those who dare venture into their territory (usually scantily clad co-eds, it seems).
Quietly, however, among all the noise about these monsters made by popular culture, compelling reports continue to trickle in from normal people who encounter something strange while hunting, camping, fishing, and/or hiking in the bottomlands of the south. The paramafait of Nightstalker fame may have been a figment of some writer’s imagination but real-life swamp monsters might not be.
Think about that next time you venture into the bottomlands and realize there are more strange things under heaven and on the earth than we can possibly imagine.